The sad shortage of donated eggs from certain ethnicities in the UK is relatively well known in the fertility community. The reasons behind it? Less so. As the media reports on the shortage of egg donors from certain countries, we take a look at what we know.
In February, Seetal Savla spoke to Metro about her journey trying to conceive as she neared 40. After three failed IVF attempts, her consultant mentioned that due to her age and diminishing egg quality, it might be time to consider IVF with donor eggs – associated with much higher chances of success.
But there was a caveat. “Since there are very few South Asian egg donors in the UK, you’re looking at waiting between two to three years for one to become available, if that’s your preference,” the consultant told her.
The shortage of egg donors from BAME backgrounds
One of the latest reports from the HFEA (the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) detailed that in the UK, between 2014 and 2018, 89% of egg donors were white, in comparison with 3% Black egg donors and 4% Asian egg donors. As a consequence, eggs from white donors were the most commonly used across the majority of ethnic groups:
– 98% of cycles with a white patient use white donor eggs
– 59% of cycles with a mixed race patient use white donor eggs
– 52% of cycles with an Asian patient use white donor eggs
– 16% of IVF cycles for a black patient use white donor eggs
Table 3. Fewer Asian egg and sperm donors
Egg and sperm donor registrations and proportions by ethnicity, 2014-2018
|Egg Donors||Sperm Donors|
|Count||% of Total||Count||% of Total|
As a leader in UK egg donation for over a decade, we are unfortunately familiar with the shortage of egg donors from BAME backgrounds. Back in 2013, we spoke to Janet Wainanina of Ukentv on the topic, and we continue to try to raise awareness as much as we can.
However, the past couple of years has an element this data does not yet factor in: a global pandemic. A mixture of lockdowns, fear of catching Covid and hesitation in coming forward likely contributed to a drop in egg donors of all ethnicities, influencing the already low number of egg donors from BAME backgrounds.
Why is there a shortage of BAME egg donors?
According to the HFEA, “These differences relate in part to cultural and/or religious beliefs and stigma around donation, particularly in South Asian communities, where the use of donor eggs or sperm can be a particularly sensitive issue”.
“Our patriarchal communities are extremely uncomfortable discussing fertility-related matters,” said Seetal Seval in her Metro article. “For generations, South Asian women have been warned against talking about periods, miscarriage and infertility for fear of being shamed by others, i.e. being a dirty, faulty female.”
Seetal also outlines a study conducted in India, which found an association between donating and ‘selling your child’. “Another complication in India is that if a married woman wishes to donate her eggs, the law stipulates that she must obtain her husband’s permission. If he has a negative opinion of donation and is fearful of what others might think if the truth were uncovered, she would have no choice but to respect his decision,” Seetal adds.
When it comes to the UK however, Seetal told the i that she believes the shortage of egg and sperm donors from South Asian backgrounds is due to a lack of awareness.
Seetal and her family are not the only ones keen to raise awareness and erase taboos. One of Altrui’s amazing egg donors asked us to share a project in 2019 calling for an end to the stigmas surrounding egg donation, infertility and mental health in South Asian communities. We were, naturally, delighted to help – and would do the same for any positive story which helps to reduce the stigma.
How do Altrui try to help the shortage of UK egg donors from BAME backgrounds?
One of our main missions is to encourage egg donation across all communities. We are there to inform, educate and support any woman who is keen to help someone grow or start a family through the selfless act of egg donation.
We speak and educate the press whenever we can on the subject, and are there to amplify the stories of any egg donors or egg recipients whose lives have been changed by egg donation. We have a wonderful team of previous egg donors who support and answer questions for women who wish to speak to others who have donated, and a private Facebook group where women can explore egg donation and if it is something they’d like to do.
If you think you can help us, we would love to hear from you.
In 2020, the BBC reported on the shortage of Black egg donors, following a woman with Afro-Caribbean heritage alongside her search for an Afro-Caribbean egg donor. In it, reproductive medicine specialist Dr Edmond Edi-Osagie shared his sadness with the UK shortage of egg donors from certain backgrounds: “Any time I see an Afro-Caribbean woman over the age of 35 who walks through my clinic, the first thing I think about is, ‘Are they going to need donor eggs?’ My heart really sinks, because I know that it’s going to be a really difficult battle if they are.”
Getting the word out to women from BAME backgrounds is more important than ever, especially as Black women in particular are disproportionately affected by some types of infertility. The HFEA’s Ethnic diversity in fertility treatment report found that Black women reported higher rates of tubal factor infertility, accounting for 31% of patient-based infertility, compared to the 18% average. The report also found that Black patients had lower IVF birth rates, started IVF at later ages than other ethnic groups, and had the highest multiple birth rate.
The lack of egg donors from BAME backgrounds puts intended parents facing infertility with a very difficult decision: a long waiting list which may or may not pair them with an egg donor of their desired ethnicity, or using donor eggs from a different heritage.
If you know of a way to help us raise awareness, we would love to hear from you. And if you are a healthy woman between 18 and 35 considering giving this incredible gift yourself, we are there to answer all of your questions, and to give you all of the information you need as you navigate whether egg donation is a choice that is right for you.
- Altrui Blog Takeover: Taboos are Beautiful, Altrui, 2019
- Where are all the South Asian Egg Donors? Seetal Savla for Metro, 2022
- Ethnic diversity in fertility treatment 2018, HFEA, 2021
- ‘Why can’t I find an Afro-Caribbean egg donor?’, BBC, 2020
- Miracle Makers – UK Egg Donor Information Hub – a private Facebook group dedicated to discovering and sharing information about egg donation
- People having babies later in life sparks surge in use of donor eggs while ethnic minorities face longer wait, the i, 2022
- Assisted Conception and South Asian communities in the UK: public perceptions of the use of donor gametes in infertility treatment, Lorraine Culley, Nicky Hudson & Frances Rapport, Human Fertility, 2013